Durban: Holders Italy are aiming to reach the World Cup semi-finals at least and failure to qualify from the group would be like the mighty New Zealand rugby side flopping, midfielder Daniele De Rossi said on Friday.
The stuttering Azzurri, little-talked about among the favourites for glory in South Africa, face underdogs New Zealand in their second Group F game on Sunday after an uninspiring 1-1 draw with Paraguay in their opener.
"Absolute failure would be not getting through, failure would be to go out in the second round," hardman De Rossi, complete with rugged beard and a snaking tattoo on his arm, told a news conference.
"We`ve got to aim at reaching the semi-final, it may sound limiting but it`s an important goal as then it`s anyone`s game."
New Zealand`s soccer team, ranked 78 in the world, are the polar opposite of the country`s great rugby side and De Rossi knows the humiliation the world champions would face should the result go against them in Nelspruit.
"Losing to New Zealand would probably mean we would risk going out like France," he said. "You can imagine what that would mean, it would be like New Zealand going out in the first round of the rugby World Cup."
The fact Italy are even talking about the remote possibility of losing will not instil their fans with huge confidence but at least with De Rossi on the field they know they have a fighter and one of the world`s top defensive midfielders.
He scored the leveller against Paraguay and has somewhat matured since the 2006 World Cup, when he was sent off for an elbow in the second game against the United States but returned to score a penalty in the shootout in the final.
The 26-year-old joked he might not have grown of age yet.
"Last time something happened in the second game so let`s wait to say I can be a leader," he smiled.
He enjoys the rough and tumble in the middle of the park but with Italy`s strikers only scoring once in six games, De Rossi could become an important attacking element given his penchant for long shots and charging forward.
"I like a man`s game sure but I like to play football too, I don`t like needlessly aggressive matches," he said before pointing out that Italy triumphed last time without having a standout player in attack.
"Results are the important thing. So far it has been a balanced World Cup."